What's In a Name?

Is it wrong for sports teams to use American Indian names, mascots, and images?

Nov 18, 2013 | Reported by Glenn Greenberg

The helmet for Washington's NFL team features an image of an American Indian.

Is it wrong for sports teams to use American Indian names, mascots, and images? The question has been at the center of an ongoing debate for years. In November 2013, TIME For Kids posed the question to two football professionals. Ray Halbritter, the representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, thinks the professional football team in Washington, D.C., the Redskins, should change its name. He says the name is offensive to Native Americans. The team’s owner, Dan Snyder, disagrees. He has publicly stated that he will not change the name. Here are the two points of view.

Change the Name!

Words can hurt. Just ask the estimated 3.2 million children who are bullied each year in the United States. For adults, too, words often cause anguish.

The word redskin has been around far too long, and it’s time to retire it for good. It’s hard to believe that Washington’s NFL team continues to use this name, even though it’s the sort of slur that would never be used in polite conversation.

Redskins is defined in the dictionary as an offensive label for Native Americans—that was used against them when they were forcibly removed from their lands at gunpoint. To most American Indians, the R-word is a hurtful reminder of past injustices.

Several weeks ago, the Oneida Indian Nation launched a national campaign called Change the Mascot, urging Washington’s NFL team to stop using the R-word. Members of Congress, leading journalists, and respected tribal leaders have joined us and called upon the team to do the right thing. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in. He is the first sitting president to speak out against the team’s offensive name.

Kids Lead the Way

Our efforts were inspired by students at Cooperstown Central Middle and High School in upstate New York. Earlier this year, they moved to right a wrong by changing their team’s nickname from the racially insensitive Redskins to the Hawkeyes.

It was a bold and courageous step that sets a fine example for what the NFL and the owner of Washington’s team should do. By changing their nickname, the students at Cooperstown showed us not only what can be done, but also what should be done. It demonstrates that the kids of today can make a real difference in building a better tomorrow.    

—By Ray Halbritter


Keep the Name!

The professional football team known today as the Washington Redskins got its start in 1932. The team was located in Massachusetts and known as the Boston Braves. In 1933, the team was renamed the Redskins. Four years later, the Redskins moved to Washington, D.C.

In a written public statement, the Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, said that, out of respect for the team’s history and traditions, he would not change the name. “Our past isn’t just where we came from—it’s who we are,” Snyder wrote. He noted that when the team first adopted the name, “four players and our head coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”

Snyder described the name as “a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect—the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.”

The Public Weighs In

Snyder wrote that he respects the feelings of those who are offended by the name of the team. But he added, “I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.” He mentioned that the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a poll of nearly 1,000 people across the country identifying themselves as Native Americans. When asked if they considered the team’s name offensive, 90% answered no.

Snyder also mentioned an April 2013 Associated Press survey, in which 79% of those polled stated the team should not change its name. Only 11% believed the name should be retired. “We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans,” wrote Snyder. “We cannot ignore our 81-year history or the strong feelings of most of our fans, as well as Native Americans throughout the country.”      

—Reported by Glenn Greenberg